BAUER SUIT GOES TO JURY
Byline: Jennifer Owens
GREENBELT, Md. — The $85 million civil discrimination suit against Eddie Bauer Inc. went to a seven-member jury Tuesday after five days of testimony at the federal courthouse here.
In closing arguments, both sides sought to stress their case in the suit that began when an off-duty police officer working part-time during a 1995 Eddie Bauer warehouse sale stopped an African-American teenager leaving the store wearing an Eddie Bauer shirt. The teenager’s two friends were also detained. For lawyers representing the three young men who have sued the casual apparel chain, that meant labeling the case one of “consumer racism, corporate hypocrisy and a violation of physical and psychological integrity.”
Lawyers for Eddie Bauer, based in Redmond, Wash., however, said that the officer who stopped the men acted alone. “He couldn’t resist being a Prince George’s County police officer,” said Gerald Ivey, a Washington lawyer representing the retailer. “He couldn’t resist thinking he had probable cause.”
In their case, Alonzo Jackson, now 18, says that during an Oct. 20, 1995, shopping trip to the temporary warehouse sale in Fort Washington, Md., he was ordered by a white security guard to produce a receipt for an Eddie Bauer shirt he had purchased the day before and was then wearing. Jackson’s two friends say they were detained by a second white security guard. The two friends, Rasheed Plummer and Marco Cunningham, are also plaintiffs in the suit, which charges Eddie Bauer with false imprisonment, defamation, negligent supervision and, in the case of Jackson, violation of the Civil Rights Act.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs argued that the incident was part of a larger pattern of discrimination that deserves punitive damages as restitution.
“You’ve got to tell them in a language they speak,” said Donald Temple, the Washington lawyer representing Jackson and Plummer. “Don’t let the Eddie Bauers of the world get away with what they’ve done here.”
Ivey, however, said that the plaintiffs, who hold the burden of proof, have exaggerated the incident. He said the fact that no other customers complained about treatment at the Fort Washington store shows that the incident was an isolated one.